Episode Fifty Four

Grady switched on the coffee maker before making his way to the refrigerator to retrieve a carton of orange juice. He knew how Seth’s morning would go, and it would take preparation in order to see that the morning didn’t become disastrous. With Jade’s reaction to Seth’s arrival last night, Grady had a feeling that the morning wouldn’t exactly be pleasant for Seth no matter how much care was taken with his physical condition.

Hearing a bit of stirring in the living room, Grady poured up a quick mug of coffee before returning the pot to the coffee maker to continue brewing. He stepped into the living room and sat on the coffee table near Seth, “You’d better just wake up. Go ahead and get it over with.”

“Where am I?” Seth murmured as he held his head, every word echoing through his head with symphonic resonance.

“You’re at my house,” Grady informed him, “Come on. Turn over and take this coffee. You might not want it, but you’re going to need it.”

“How did I get here?” Seth asked, turning over to take the mug of coffee from Grady.

“The guy you were drinking with at the bar offered to take you home, and somehow you pointed him here,” Grady explained as he watched Seth inhale the strong aroma of the coffee, “So what were you drinking?”

“Whiskey and beer,” Seth replied before sipping the coffee. He shook his head and pressed the coffee back towards Grady, “It’s too strong.”

“No, it isn’t. You’re in the midst of a fairly heavy duty hangover, and you’re going to need every single ounce of that coffee you can get. So drink it,” Grady pushed the mug back into Seth’s hand.

“Who made you the boss?”

“You did when you showed up drunk on my doorstep,” Grady pointed out, “Jade isn’t happy with you.”

“So I guess she’s here, huh?” Seth asked as he swallowed a lump in his throat before taking another sip of the coffee.

“Yeah, she’s sleeping right now, but I really don’t expect that to last. She’s going to wake up pissed off at you, and she’s going to give you a piece of her mind while you’re still feeling crappy enough to sit there and take it.”

Seth let out a breath as a faint hint of a smile teased his lips, “Yeah, I suppose she would,” He paused before looking at Grady with panicked eyes, “Where’s the bathroom?”

“First door on the left,” Grady said as he pointed to the hallway.

Seth lunged down the hallway and slid into the bathroom. Grady heard the tell-tale sounds of a thudding toilet seat and then the sounds of heaving resounding down the hallway.

Grady frowned as he placed the mug of coffee Seth had passed to him on the table and walked back to the kitchen. He placed two slices of bread in the toaster before he walked to the door of the bathroom, “There are wash clothes in the cabinet, and there’s an extra toothbrush in there as well. Though if I were you, I’d save it cause I’m sure this’ll just be your first visit of the morning.”

Seth opened the door, holding a damp cloth to his forehead, “I guess you think this is funny, huh?”

“There’s nothing funny about a hangover,” Grady replied with a sigh, “Lie back down on the sofa. I’ll bring you some dry toast and a waste basket you can use the next time you feel sick.”

Seth watched Grady walk back into the kitchen as confusion flooded his aching head. He couldn’t decide if Grady was just taking pity on him, having fun at his expense, or trying to genuinely help him. Right now, he couldn’t concentrate on what Grady’s motivations were. As it stood, he could barely concentrate on which direction the sofa was.

Seth lay back on the sofa and placed the cool damp cloth over his face. He’d never intended to get plastered when he’d gone to the bar last night. Then again, he couldn’t quite remember what he had intended although he was pretty sure it had something to do with forgetting about Blake.

“Here’s your toast and a glass of orange juice,” Grady announced as he placed the toast and glass upon the coffee table.

“I definitely do not want that juice,” Seth grumbled.

“You might not want it, but you’re going to need something nutritious on your stomach even if just for a little bit.”

“I’m not drinking it,” Seth declared as he glared at Grady.

“Okay, fine. But when you’re heaving over a bucket later with nothing but bile burning out your throat for your trouble, just remember I warned you.”

“Why do you care any way?”

“Because I’ve been where you are more times than I care to count. Bourbon was my enemy. It was smooth enough going down, but boy it was a bitch coming back up,” Grady shook his head slightly, “I’m an alcoholic, you see. Well, the code word is recovering alcoholic, but I don’t feel like I’m recovering at all. Still, you’re a good guy. You’d have to be for Jade to always be worried about you and singing your praises. I figure that says you don’t deserve to go through this alone. A helping hand is usually needed when yours are full holding onto the toilet bowl.”

Seth eyed Grady for a moment, “I don’t know whether to laugh at that or just outright tell you how full of crap you are.”

Grady grinned slightly, “Wait until you’re sober to make that kind of decision.”

“Ugh,” Seth groaned as he leaned over the waste basket Grady had provided and began to expel the remaining contents of his stomach.

Grady frowned as he took the cloth from Seth’s lap and went to the bathroom. He rewet the cloth with cool water and returned to the sofa, draping the cloth over Seth’s forehead as the younger man groaned in his agony.

“I forgot how bad hangovers can be,” Seth moaned in dismay.

“Had a few before huh?” Grady asked as he sat in his recliner.

“Back in high school,” Seth took a deep breath as he tried to calm the rumble in this stomach, “It’s been a long time.”

“Hopefully, you’ll remember this experience and won’t repeat it.”

“You know, I still don’t understand why you’re being so nice to me,” Seth said as he directed his bloodshot eyes towards Grady.

“Because Grady’s a good man, or haven’t you been paying attention?” Jade asked from the doorway to the bedroom. She slowly stepped into the living room, “So how’s it going, big brother?”

“Is this where I get a lecture from my baby sister?” Seth groaned.

“Not yet. I’m going to wait until you’re more coherent for that,” She replied with a smug grin.

“Oh god, just let me die,” Seth plead as he pulled the damp cloth over his face.

Grady shook his head with a bland smile as he switched on the television to watch the early morning newscast.

“Sources say the wedding was an intimate affair. We here at Entertainment Now wish Mr. and Mrs. Ashford the best of everything,” The announcer spoke.

“Oh my god,” Grady exhaled as he sat forward in his chair, “That’s Avery and Brant.”

“What?” Jade asked in confusion as she glanced to the screen, seeing Avery and Brant in one another’s arms while she wore a white dress, “Did they just say wedding?”

“Yeah,” Grady frowned, “They did. I wonder how Russ is.”

“If he’s seen this, he’s devastated,” She replied with sad eyes, “Poor Russ.”

“I think I should go over there,” Grady spoke as he stood and made his way to an end table to pick up his set of keys.

“Don’t you dare go over there and make things worse for him, Grady!” Jade warned.

“I’m not. Believe me, right now, the only person I want to make life worse for is Avery,” Grady sighed as he picked up his jacket, “If you need me, I’ve got my cell.”

Jade nodded as she watched Grady leave the house. She crossed her arms before she sat on the coffee table and removed the cloth from Seth’s face, “So how are you doing, big brother?”

Seth’s reply was simple. He turned and wretched into the waste basket once again. Jade frowned, knowing that the morning had only just begun.


“Care to tell me what was going on last night,” Preston questioned watching as Dorothy scrubbed at the dishes in the sink before her, offering up her full attention to the already clean pot in her hands.  “Dottie?”
“I don’t want to talk about it, Pres,” she answered tightly still thinking about the way her daughter had stormed out of the hospital refusing to speak with her upon the admission of the truth.
“Well maybe you should considering that we haven’t heard from Jenna after I arrived,” he frowned watching her assaulting the pot once again.  With a heavy sigh, he stepped forward reaching into the sink and ceasing any further punishment she had in mind for the innocent pot.  “Hey, would you talk to me, please?”
“Pres, it’s just,” she sighed finally releasing the pot as she turned around to face him, her heart sinking with the knowledge that she’d betrayed her daughter’s trust, “everything is so complicated.”
“So uncomplicated it,” he suggested seeing the lost expression that had crept in over her features as he lifted his hand up to touch her cheek gently, “hey, talk to me.  What’s going on with you and Jenna?”
“I don’t even know where to begin,” she reached for the dish towel drying her hands haphazardly as she realized that this time she’d screwed up with Jenna more so than she’d imagined.  She’d tried calling Jenna time and time again, but each time she’d gotten no response which was never a good sign considering how hard Jenna took certain things--especially when they were big disappointments and shocks to her daily structure.  Last night clearly classified as more of a shock than any her daughter had been forced to endure thus far and as Dorothy looked to the man she loved standing before her, his eyes full of concern as he begged her to be open with him, she found herself wondering if she hadn’t somehow caused more of problem with her unwillingness to open up about the truth than she’d imagined.
“You know you can trust me,” Preston urged further hoping to pull her out of the dark place she so rightfully belonged in during this moment in time.  Still as he reached for her hand, she allowed him to pull her out of the kitchen into the living room area as he urged her to sit beside him on the couch, “Talk to me, Sweetheart.”
“I wouldn’t know where to begin,” she drew in a nervous breath realizing that now that the truth was out in the open, she couldn’t very well keep things from the man who’d played such an important part of her life for so very long.  “It’s all so, well…”
“Yes?” he inquired as he reached for her hand supportively offering up a gentle squeeze, “You know you can trust me with anything.”
“I know that, but still,” she inhaled slowly straining to find the right words as she looked into his eyes wishing that this would somehow be easier, “it’s just that I’ve tried for so very long to shut that part of my life away forever.  You know how I haven’t wanted to reflect upon my youth because I made so many impulsive, stupid decisions.  I was so young and naïve back then and when Jenna came into this world I swore to myself that I’d bury those demons along with that part of my life…”
“And you’ve done a fine job in that,” he offered up supportively, “You’ve been an amazing mother and Jenna is very proud of you as am I…”
“She’s not anymore,” Dorothy’s heart sank at that open admission, “and after I tell you about what is really going on, I’m certain that you won’t be either.”
“Hey,” he brushed his fingers over the side of her face, “I think you’re being just a little too hard on yourself.  After all, think of all the things you’ve accomplished over the years.  Jenna has grown up to become a wonderful woman and look at Wayne…”
“Wayne,” she repeated thinking of her and Preston’s son as she wondered how her news would effect her relationships with the rest of her family.
“I heard from him earlier in the day you know,” Preston began eagerly thinking to the phone call his son had offered up, “Once he knew I’d be back in town and we‘d all be together, we started working on the beginnings of the holiday celebration we’d be having this year as you know how Wayne loves to let the holiday spirit bring out his creative side.  I’m sure he and Jenna will come up with something…”
“Pres, I don’t know if we’ll be having our usual holiday celebrations,” she blurted out as tears threatened to overtake her, “as I’m certain Jenna won’t be talking to me after the ways in which I’ve deceived her.”
“I don’t understand,” his smile faded as a tear slipped down her face, “Dottie, what’s going on?”
“It’s me,” she sighed heavily, “I haven’t been honest with any of you and my dishonesty is going to be the key to our family’s undoing.”
“Why do you say that?” he asked uncertain.
“Because it’s the truth,” she blurted out painfully, “I should’ve just been straightforward with all of you, but I chose to keep you and especially Jenna in the dark about my past.  She had a right to know the truth and I withheld it from her.”
“The truth about what?”
“Her father,” she confessed poignantly, “I had the opportunity to be honest with her time and time again, but I blew it.”
“Jenna’s father is dead,” Preston reminded her, “and you didn’t want to drudge up all those painful memories about the loss you experienced and Jenna realizes that.”
“No, that’s just it,” she shook her head in response, “that wasn’t the truth either.  You see,” she paused feeling the weight of the moment upon her, “Jenna’s father isn’t dead.”
“What?” he blinked back at her in surprise.  “You mean?”
“He’s very much alive and here in Coral Valley,” she admitted shamefully as her head sank with her words, “I never thought that I’d see him again or that he and Jenna would ever encounter one another, but then one day he showed up in town and…”
“Who is he,” Preston demanded his voice tightening with something Dorothy couldn’t quite recognize, “What’s his name?”
“You don’t know him,” she blurted out shamefully, “and at that time I was with him, I was a young woman full of foolish dreams and I thought he could make me a star.  I thought that I was going to fly to Hollywood and become the next best thing, but instead all I became was the one thorn in his side and when I found out I was having Jenna I left before Hollywood could destroy her as well.”
“You mean he’s…” he paused taking in her words, “That man…the one Jenna was talking to last night when I arrived.  It was him, wasn’t it?”
She nodded unable to contain her tears, “I never wanted Jenna to find out like this and I swore to myself that I’d never allow Douglas to know, but then when he came to town…”
“Hey,” Preston began fighting his initial urge to find the man and tear him into shreds as he thought of the one person in the world who had turned Dorothy’s life upside down.  Sure, he had a great many conflicting emotions about how to respond to this situation, but as he held Dorothy, he felt her sorrow weigh upon him and he decided now wasn’t the time for how he felt about the situation, “it’ll be okay.”
“I don’t see how it can be,” she trembled in his arms, “because Jenna won’t even speak to me.  She hates me.”
“She doesn’t hate you,” he tried to assure her, “She just needs time to adjust to this.  We all do,” he offered up allowing her to let loose of all the pain she’d been harboring all these years as he held her wondering if somehow the pain of the past could ever fully be diminished as this new turnabout clearly would effect the future of their family.  Either way, Preston promised himself he’d do what was needed to help Dorothy restore her piece of mind once again as clearly seeing her like this was the one thing that truly broke his heart and that was simply unacceptable.

Hart stretched out beneath the black satin sheets upon his king sized bed feeling the winter morning in the air surrounding him even though the top of the line heating system in his condominium would never allow such a thing to be happening.  Sure, he’d known full well that the chill in the air wasn’t because of the snowfall, but as he stretched out turning his attention to the half opened Venetian blinds upon his window, he saw the cloud of snow that had covered the ground since his late night review session.  Granted he hadn’t gotten much accomplished as his thoughts were still lingering upon that one heated moment of frenzy back at the hospital with the ever enchanting Jenna Carpenter.  Why even now he could still taste the fire of her upon his lips and he realized he’d never wanted that sensation to leave him as she was far too exciting to lose sight of.
Now as Hart sat upright, bringing his feet down onto the crimson colored oriental rug covering the floor beneath his toes.  Why the rug in itself was a perfect example of Hart’s exquisite taste in the finer things in life.  He’d always prided himself on having the best of the best and in the case of his women, well that too was nothing that he’d lower his standards on.  He stretched for a moment before rising as he thought to the many beautiful faces he’d charmed over the years.  Why in retrospect there hadn’t been any woman that he hadn’t been able to win over, well until the impossible Jenna, but after last night, he was certain that too would be changing shortly.
“Oh Jenna, soon I’m sure you’ll give in,” he mused with a smile catching a glimpse of his appearance as his smile dropped just a bit.  Sure, he’d never been concerned about his looks or the intensity of his charm as there wasn’t a woman who hadn’t thought him to be some kind of Adonis and he’d always found a way to leave a woman feeling completely satisfied in his presence, but then again he was a Steiner after all.  It ran in his blood and he was always confident with women as he’d always found a way to reach them and bring out their most intimate secrets and turn them into putty in his hands.
Certainly Jenna would be the same, he paused at the thought as he recalled the ways in which she’d continually put him off.  Even last night she’d had the audacity to get upset about what was seemingly going so well between them.  Her anger clearly had to say something about the level of intensity she’d felt for him, didn’t it?  Certainly she would be returning to the lust she’d clearly had for him as no woman had resisted him before.  Still no woman had ever really put up as much of a fight as Jenna had.  Perhaps that was the reason for the attraction, he thought to himself as he made his way through his luxurious condominium recalling the ways in which her refusals had been enough to light the fire of determination within him.
From the moment Hart had first encountered Jenna, he’d thought she was sexy as hell, but given the circumstances they’d met under he realized that maybe it wouldn’t be appropriate to tell her of the sinful ways in which he’d like to work through a private deposition with her.  Hell, the first time she’d damned him in the public eye for siding with Patrick Sharpe, he’d never wanted to take a woman as much as he’d wanted her then and there.  Still given the fact that he’d helped ruin her professional life to some degree, he’d decided that sexy or not she was certainly off limits.  Still as his thoughts lingered to what was happening between them, he couldn’t help but feel a bit hopeful.
“Things are just getting good,” he reminded himself contemplating the next contact he’d make with Jenna as he heard his doorbell ringing alerting him of company.  As he looked to the clock, he realized it was still early--far too early for his maid to come by and pick the place up as she wasn’t scheduled to come over for a couple of days and the dry cleaning he was having sent home was also not due back until tomorrow after twelve.
Suddenly a thought occurred to Hart and as his curiosity got the best of him, he made a quick path to his front door not bothering to slip into a shirt as he was sure whatever company was coming at this hour would clearly be someone at the wrong address.  His neighbor had a lot of visitors with the holidays approaching and each year the guest list seemed to get stranger and stranger.  This year he was certain that things would only be more unique as he wondered what kind of character would show up on his doorstep looking for Starr and Ingo’s place.  A tiny chuckle built over his lips as he slowly opened his front door ready to take in whatever kind of freak show was waiting to greet the wrong person, but his jaw dropped in surprise as he saw Jenna standing on his front porch, her dark eyes sullen and tired looking as her cheeks seemed to have tracks of…could it be tears running down them.
“Jenna,” he questioned unable to mask his surprise as he looked down at her seeing her trembling before him.
“Can I come in,” she inquired her voice low and almost fragile as her sad eyes locked with his and he found himself unable to utter a word as he stepped aside opening the door wider and allowing her access despite his confusion upon seeing her.
Wondering if his mind was playing tricks on him, Hart began to close the door behind her as he watched her enter his apartment, her head hung low as if being at his place for the first time in, well--ever was nothing out of the ordinary.  Clearing his throat, he spoke up uneasily, “Is there something I can help you with?”
“No, not really,” she answered shaking her head as her hands were trembling and she slowly turned around to face him, “I mean yes…no…I don’t know,” she found herself unable to contain her emotions as she broke into tears before him.
“Jenna, what is it,” he questioned reaching out to her instinctively as he felt her trembling within his embrace.
“It’s everything,” she sobbed harder unable to control her tears as she struggled to hold on to him.  “One minute I thought I had it all figured out, but then, well nothing seems to be as it should be and here I am…” she paused suddenly realizing the embrace they were in as she withdrew from his arms and began to bring her own arms up over herself, “well I wasn’t sure where to go.  I mean normally I’d talk to Avery, but well she’s not anywhere to be found and then I’d go to my mother, but right now she’s the last person I want to be talking to and then, well I was going through my purse and I realized that I had this…” she pulled out the business card Hart had given her earlier when they’d agreed to start working with one another.  Granted she’d never anticipated using it to wind up at his home address, but now, well now there was no where else she would rather be--or could be for that matter.
“Jenna, what happened,” he asked again softening his tone as he watched her features drain of all color, “Did you have another run in with Patrick?  Did he hurt you?” Tension immediately flooded over his body upon completion of his words as he reached out to her.
“No,” she shook her head, “It wasn’t Patrick this time.  He had nothing to do with the lies I’ve had fed to me my entire life by the one person in this world I thought I could trust more than anything.  I can’t believe that after all this time…after all my questions…” she threw her hands in the air, “how could this be happening to me?” her voice trailed off and her tears began to return once again.
“Shh…” Hart urged her into his arms trying to comfort her as he wondered what had put her in such a frazzled state.  Something clearly had reached down deep into her and as she continued to cry, he wondered who’d made her feel this way, “Jenna,” he spoke her name soothingly, “if you tell me what happened, maybe we can work on fixing this together.”
“I wish it were that simple, but things like this can’t be fixed…they can never be fixed…” she shook her head in refusal, “Even now after I think about Douglas and…”
“Douglas…” he repeated a scowl pressing over his features as his eyes fell upon her tears and an anger raced over him, “What has that son of a bitch done to you?”
“It’s not what you think,” Jenna began seeing the wild look of rage in his eyes, “Hart…”
“If he laid a finger on you, I’ll kill him,” Hart declared his voice full of passion as he held her, “If he tried to take advantage of you…”
“Hart, that’s not it at all,” Jenna shook her head in refusal, “Hart, Douglas didn’t try to put any moves on me and he wouldn’t do that because if he’d tried,” she sucked in a sharp breath as a moment of horror passed over her, “Oh God…he’d almost kissed me a few days ago and now…” she groaned as a shudder passed over her spine, “I was sure he was going to kiss me and I almost let him and now…”
“Jenna, what is it,” he asked feeling her pull away from him as she clenched her body within her arms as if to squeeze the emotion out of her that had been consuming her, “what happened?”
“Douglas Mahoney is…” Jenna breathed needing to tell someone the news that had been thrown upon her late last night as her world came crashing down around her.
Once Preston had arrived, she’d fled from the hospital needing some air, but instead she found herself roaming through town, unable to find a place to obtain any kind of clarity until she’d wound up on Hart’s doorstep wondering what kind of madness had overtaken her.  Still as the thought of all the years her mother had lied to her stung at her heart, she realized she had no where else to go--no one else to count on as her career had found a way to isolate her from almost everyone in the living world around her.  Even now as she thought to the few bonds she’d made over the years, well they all seemed to be different as every time she’d wound up getting close to someone disaster struck.  First with Patrick and now Douglas, yet with all the confusion, she’d found herself turning to the one man she’d been struggling to stay away from.
Hart Steiner was someone she’d vowed to keep away from after last night’s near disaster when she’d so carelessly jumped him at the hospital, but now, well now he was the only thing she was certain of.  Granted he was danger, but he was the kind of danger she’d known...the kind that she was fully aware of and as her world was turned upside down, it was that danger that she’d wanted to lose herself in as she cursed the world around her.
Slowly, Jenna faced him again, drawing in a slow, unsteady breath through her pursed lips as her heart was pounding in her chest.  She took a step forward feeling fear and that little voice in the back of her head throwing out the same warning signals, but this time she chose to ignore them--chose to slam them down into the ground as they’d done nothing for her in the past, but kept her away from what had really been what she craved the most.  With each step she took, she could see the confusion behind Hart’s eyes, but none of that mattered as all that was important was the escape that he could provide her with as her heart was shattered in a million pieces.
“Jenna,” he half gulped as a nervousness sounded in his voice and he shifted on his feet, “What aren’t you telling me?”
“Hart, I don’t want to think about the last twelve hours of my life,” she answered honestly tossing her hair over her shoulder, “I don’t want to think about my mother, about Douglas, or about what I should or shouldn’t be doing.  What I want to focus on is the thing that brought me here--to this moment in time with you,” she felt a lump forming in her throat as her tears began to die down and the feelings of betrayal were replaced by those of lust as her gaze settled in upon the muscled contours of his chest revealed to her in this moment of shirtless splendor he’d unwittingly offered her.
“I don’t understand,” he gave her a sideways glance watching as his face seemed to shift with each movement she made towards him, “Jenna?”
“Hart, I’m just tired of the bull--tired of the lies and tired of leading my life isolated from the rest of the world.  I’ve played it safe for so very long and it’s given me nothing, but misery--nothing but a feeling of emptiness and I don’t to keep isolating myself from the world around me.  I don’t want to deny the desires that have been raging through me from the moment I first laid my eyes upon you,” her voice took on a sultry tone as her fingers fanned out over the center of his chest in unison with that final step she’d made towards him.
Immediately the warmth of her touch sent spirals of sensations racing through him as another gulp built up in the back of his throat.  He saw the determination behind her eyes and that seemingly fragile look that she’d had on her face the moment he’d opened the door was replaced by something else--by the unmistakable look of unyielding desire as the warmth of her breath pressed over his nakedness dancing over the hair dusted muscles.  His breath caught in his throat as she leaned forward dropping butterfly kisses over his skin openly, refusing to keep up that wall she’d built around her--the one she’d worked so very hard to maintain all these months as she was no longer Jenna the repressed medical examiner held back by her rules, but more so Jenna the temptress who knew full well what she wanted and was determined to show him she knew exactly how to get it.
“Jenna,” he sucked in a sharp breath feeling her mouth offer up delicious temptation as his fingers slipped into her hair, keeping her close to him as he closed his eyes losing himself to the taste of heaven she’d provided him with.  If he didn’t know better, he’d say he was dreaming this, but as Jenna’s mouth worked it’s magic over his body, causing the sexual tension to race over his every synapse, he realized that this was indeed no fantasy.
“Shh…” she whispered against his skin as her fingers teased over the top elastic of his black silken pajama bottoms tickling over the sensitive patch of skin just beneath as he reached for her wrist collecting it in one swift motion as his other hand slid up into her hair.
Their eyes connected as he watched her, trying to gauge her reactions as the first shred of conscience hit him for the first time in well, he couldn’t remember how many years as he spoke to her in a passion-laden tone, unable to deny the reactions she’d stirred up inside of him, “Jenna, you don’t want to do this.”
“Yes,” she nodded emphatically, “I do.  Hart, I want to forget about the world around us for a while and just give in to what we’ve both been denying ourselves since the moment we first laid eyes upon one another.”
“Jenna, you don’t mean that,” he began to argue with her unable to believe the words that fell from her lips, “Something’s not right here and I know you really don’t want to be doing this.”
“Yes I do,” she answered eagerly, her hands dropping down over his hips as she gave his pajama bottoms a quick tug, catching him off guard as a tiny giggle spilled over her lips.
“Jenna don’t,” he gulped releasing her wrist as his fingers clenched to the top of his pajama bottoms keeping them from sliding further down his body as her sensual lips curled in a pout.
“Hart, now is no time for being shy,” she teased as she continued to pull at his pajama bottoms with enthusiasm, “I want you.  I want to make love with you until I can’t think of anything but you…”
Jenna’s lips returned to his chest offering up teasing nips as her hands continued their battle with him, urging him to let go of any inhibitions or reservations he might be having about the two of them together as his inner conflict built.  Sure, he’d been fantasizing about something like this moments earlier, but could he really go through with it knowing full well that Jenna had come to him in tears seemingly upset by something she’d still refused to reveal to him?
“Hart please,” Jenna begged of him yanking at the silken material once again as she lifted her eyes up towards his.  Her arms wrapped around him as her hands squeezed his bottom encouragingly, “Don’t make me beg.”
“Jenna,” a sigh of defeat fell from his lips as he released his hold upon her hands and he carefully eased his hand underneath her chin urging her to meet his eyes as he leaned in closer to her, “not like this.”
“But…” she began with a tiny frown as her tone softened, “Hart, I want you…”
“I know you do, baby,” he whispered inching in towards her, “but if we’re going to make love, we’re not going to do it like this…not here,” he promised picking her up in his arms as he carried her across his living room thinking of a million and one reasons why he was going to burn in hell for even indulging her, but with each step closer to his bedroom he made, he realized that it would be well worth burning to have this time with her.
“Oh Hart,” Jenna threw her arms around him kissing him wildly as he stood before his bed.  He collapsed on the mattress ready to indulge both of their fantasies with one another and it was in that instant that he tasted the very thing he’d dreaded upon her lips as the strong sting of it burned at him.  He felt her moan against him and as a shower of immediate regret for letting her win this battle over his conscience up until this point, he pulled away from her knowing full well that the unmistakable taste of alcohol was the reasoning for this seduction.
“Jenna,” he spoke tightly feeling his body aching to continue what she’d started, but as he prepared himself to say all the things he’d forced himself to think up as he refused to take advantage of her in such a state, he was greeted in response with a hideous snoring sound as she’d suddenly drifted off as soon as her head hit his pillow.  A sigh spilled over his lips as he rolled off of her and he began to curse himself for letting things get out of hand.  Something wasn’t right with Jenna and as he watched her belting out one of the most profane, obnoxious sounds he’d ever heard out of a sleeping woman, he vowed to find a way to fix the problem that had put Jenna in this position as while having her beg him to be with her was nice, but when he had her, he was certain it would be on the right terms.  Until then he’d just indulge in a few moments with her as she lost herself to the drunken stupor she’d pulled herself into.  Then again maybe it was time for a really cold shower, he decided getting off the bed as his body was still very effected by the nearness of her as sure he’d tried to do the right thing, but there was only so much a man could do in terms of putting limitations upon himself and Jenna Carpenter was surely pushing those by the moment making him question his own sanity.


Ken turned in bed to find Caitlin staring up at the ceiling. He reached over to her and lightly brushed the backs of his fingers over her cheek, “You didn’t sleep much last night.”

“If you know that, you didn’t sleep much either,” Caitlin replied as she slowly turned her eyes to meet his.

“It was kind of hard to. I just kept thinking about my brother.”

“I was thinking about Avery,” She sighed as she closed her eyes, “This is the most complicated situation, and it’s all because of Brant. If he’d just face reality and see that Avery is in love with Russ…”

“Then he’d be letting the woman he cares about slip through his fingers,” He shook his head, “I’m not making excuses for him. Lord knows I think he’s in the wrong here as well, but it can’t be easy for him. He’s wanted to show Avery that he cares about her for a while, and now she’s pregnant with another man’s child. It has to be difficult for him to deal with that.”

“He didn’t seem to be having any trouble taking credit for Russ’ baby,” She pointed out as she sat up and ran her fingers through her unruly hair, “Is he nuts or something?”

“I’m afraid to answer that question,” He admitted as he sat up along side her, “I’ve never seen Brant like this. Usually he gets focused on a woman only long enough to bed her then he’s on to his next conquest, but with Avery, it’s all different and he’s not budging.”

“Maybe it’s time that we quit humoring him, and make him see that things aren’t going to be the way he wants them just because he thinks he rules the world.”

“You really don’t like him at all, do you?”

“I hadn’t really decided about him before last night, but man oh man did he get under my skin,” Caitlin growled, “I really wanted to inflict violence on the man, and that’s just not usually in my nature.”

“Oh I don’t know. I saw you itching to attack Heather,” Ken teased.

“She was asking for it much like Brant is. In that respect those two are very much meant for one another. They both think they’re entitled to whatever they see just because they say so. Well, that’s not the case, and Brant needs to wake up and realize that.”

“Something tells me you’re itching to get at him even as we speak,” He said as he watched her.

“It just makes me furious that he’s acting as if Avery can’t think for herself. In case you haven’t noticed, Avery isn’t the fragile little flower your brother seems to take her for.”

“Believe me, I know that better than anyone. I went to law school with her, and she pegged me as the one person she wanted to compete with. We fought tooth and nail all the way through, and in the end, she let me know in no uncertain terms that she would be number one. True to her word, she graduated first in our class, and I was a close second. She has the fiercest will I’ve ever known.”

“See, you know strong Avery is. So why is Brant acting like she’s so delicate? You know what it looks like to me? It looks like he wants to control her and in some way manipulate her to his way of thinking. I’m not sure what his ultimate goal is, but there’s no way I’m going to let him try to exploit this time in her life to his own advantage.”

“If you’re expecting me to take up for him, that’s not going to happen. Right now, Brant is in the wrong, but he’s too stubborn to admit it. Though, to be honest, I’m more worried about his state of mind right now. I saw something last night that really bothers me.”

“What is it?” Caitlin asked as she watched Ken, “Well?”

“Last night, Brant reminded me a lot of our father. We both vowed to ourselves and each other that we would never follow in Dad’s footsteps. We both knew just how vile and despicable that path was, and neither one of us wanted to subject anyone we cared about to the pains our family both suffered and inflicted.”

“Ken, you’re not really making any sense to me,” She interrupted him.

Ken suddenly focused on his fingers as he traced a seam in the comforter, “Our father was known as something of a womanizer, but that wasn’t exactly the truth. The truth is that Nicholas Ashford got everything he wanted…even if he had to take it by force.”

“Are you saying…”

“He’s bent women to his will, kidnapped them under the guise of taking them for a business trip or drugging them in their own apartments. The outcome was always the same. He’d rape them, and then he’d act as if they’d had some great affair together. Brant and I cleaned up more of Nicholas’ messes than I even want to begin to think about, but Brant saw a lot more of it than I did. I had enough early on, and I decided that I’d get away from all of that. Brant, though…he wanted the reigns of BBK. So he made sure that Nicholas wouldn’t lose everything because of his sexual appetites,” Ken paused as he looked up to Caitlin with tears pooled in his eyes, “Brant grew up real early in that respect. He’d always take care of the women afterward, provide them with medical care and money for expenses. The truth of it all was that the cash was just blood money. I think Brant got used to the idea of throwing money at a problem to make it go away.”

“Ken…” Caitlin began as she reached out to touch his hand.

“I’ve always seen Brant’s exploits with women as his way of playing a game of one-up-man-ship with Nicholas. While Nicholas had to use all sorts of deceit to have the women he wanted, Brant could charm any woman he wanted and have her…that is…until…”

“Until Avery,” She finished for him.

“She’s the one woman who’s eluded his grasp, and last night, for just a moment, I swear I saw Nicholas standing in front of me. Brant had that same cold angry demand in his eyes that I saw in Nicholas more times than I can count. I’m worried that he’s losing his grip, Caitlin. I’ve never seen Brant act like this. To be honest, I’ve never seen a woman he wanted turn him down, but that’s beside the point.”

“All of this is beside the point. To hell with worrying about Brant. I’m more concerned about Avery’s welfare. If Brant’s slipping like that, then who knows what he could do to Avery,” She said urgently as she got out of bed.

“Where are you going?” Ken asked as he watched her scurry about the room getting dressed.

“I’m going to check on Avery. You can sit there and worry about Brant, or you can get dressed and come with me to try to save both Avery and your brother from making mistakes they can’t take back,” Caitlin dared him as she pulled her hair back in a pony tail, ready to take a stand for what she believed to be right. She wouldn’t let Avery fall victim to anything Brant had in mind…violent or otherwise.


Avery stepped out of the shower into the steam filled bathroom wearily as she was certain she’d heard some kind of crashing sound moments earlier as she stood in the shower stall trying to clear her head over the situation she’d found herself in.  She’d been touched with an eerie feeling that someone was watching her--there in the master bathroom with her as she’d been lost in her own nagging thoughts about the state of life she’d happened upon.  Sure, she’d been overcome with a mixture of emotions, but then out of the corner of her eye she could’ve swore she saw something--a brief flicker of something at that for that one moment in time terrified her.  Quickly she’d finished up with her shower, grabbing for the towel that was hung up beside the frosted glass door and much to her relief she’d found it still hanging there as she worked to wrap herself up, but now as she stood amidst the luxurious bathroom with the remains of the shower causing a condensation to build on the mirrors, she realized that she was in fact still alone as she’d been when she stepped into the shower a short time ago.
“Avery, keep it together,” she silently cursed herself as she tightened the top of the towel around her body, straining to keep her mind from driving her insane as she reached out to the mirror wiping it with one quick stroke to reveal her tired looking reflection.  Last night after she’d finished speaking with Brant, she recalled crying herself to sleep and it wasn’t until this morning that she’d awakened half hoping this was all just a bad dream, but alas her surroundings and the stiffness that had settled in over her limbs swiftly reminded her that this was in fact the reality of her life.  Now as her dark eyes returned to this moment as her reflection stared upon her with less than eager eyes, she felt a sigh spill over her lips.
“Look at what you’ve turned yourself into, Avery,” she chastised herself thinking of the mess she’d created in her life, “Some kind of mother you’re going to turn out to be,” she blurted out realizing that talking to yourself was the first telltale sign of insanity, but still as her gaze drifted down to her abdomen, she realized that she was no longer alone as she now had someone very important with her…someone who was depending on her to keep her life together at any cost.
“It’s okay baby,” she whispered struggling to keep the tears from returning to her once again, “I promise you I’ll do whatever I need to do to keep you safe.  From now on you’re the most important person in my life and I swear to you that I won’t do things like my mother did and hurt you.  I’ll be the kind of mother that you can be happy to have in your life--the kind of mother that puts her child ahead of all else doing anything and everything to ensure your happiness,” she promised biting on her lip as tears clouded her vision, “I just wish your daddy was here to share this with me as I know he’d feel like the luckiest man alive as he’s waited a long time for you to come into this world,” Avery trailed off unable to contain the sad smile that touched over her lips, “and this time I swear to you that I won’t fail you like I did with your brother or sister before.  I’ll give you everything you need to come into this world safely and when you’re in my arms, I swear to you that nothing will ever hurt you.”
Avery’s tears fell freely as she thought to the miracle child that had come into her life.  Despite all the hell that had been happening around her, it was as if someone was trying to give her a second chance…a slice of happiness and hope for a dream she’d lost so very long ago.  That in itself was worth fighting for, she reasoned as a clanging sound rose up from behind her causing her to gasp in surprise as she spun around to face the source of the sound.  Her eyes widened as she realized that the window in the bathroom was unlatched and knocking with the breeze as she stepped in closer to it.  Her heart was racing as she slowly gravitated towards the window, but before she could get near enough to give it a full inspection, she heard a tapping at the bathroom door that startled her.
“Avery,” Brant’s voice questioned through the heavy door, “is everything alright in there?”
She paused contemplating her words before offering up a response in her most casual tone considering the circumstances, “I’m okay.  I’m almost finished up in here.”
“Alright then,” he explained as his voice was a bit muffled by the door, “I have breakfast out for us on the deck out back, so when you’re ready…”
“I’ll be down in a few minutes,” Avery answered quickly as she began to towel dry her hair.
“I can wait for you,” he offered eagerly, “we can go down together.”
“Brant,” she sighed stepping towards the door and opening it once she was certain her towel was tied tightly around her, “I can manage as I need to get dressed still.”
“Avery, it’s really not a problem,” he began again flashing her a bright smile, “I mean since I haven’t actually given you a tour of this place, you might not know where you’re going and if you get lost, well I’d feel horrible about that considering…”
“Brant, I can handle getting dressed and finding my way,” she answered politely as he reached out to touch her cheek gently.
“Avery, I know you can, but can I help it if I want to take care of you,” he questioned placing one foot into the bathroom and opening the door a bit more as he stood before her.  He leaned in toward her, the scent of his cologne sweeping over her senses as a hint of a smile touched over the corners of his mouth and he whispered above her, “There’s nothing wrong with that, is there?”
“Brant,” Avery closed her eyes inhaling the crisp, rugged scent of his cologne as the familiarity of it began to wash over her senses, igniting something inside of her that could only be classified as…Russell.  With that thought Avery’s eyes snapped open and she turned her head away from the kiss she was certain Brant was about to offer her.
“Avery, what is it?” Brant questioned with the beginnings of a frown, “Did I do something wrong?”
“That cologne,” Avery whispered feeling her pulse quicken at the scent that lingered over the air, “why are you wearing it?”
“Well I’d thought that it fit the mood,” Brant answered as a crease lifted over his brow, “Don’t you like it?”
“Well yes, but…” she fought to find the words to explain why it did what it did to her.  Why every time she’d smelled that she thought of Russell, of the way it felt to have his arms around her, holding her--making love to her.  Shaking her head as she tried to dispel the thought, she took a step back into the bathroom, “Brant, I think it would really be best if I met you downstairs instead of making you wait like this.”
“Avery, it’s really no problem that…” he started as another banging sound swept up through the bathroom causing her to jump forward with an unintentional leap into his arms.
“What was that?” she questioned feeling goose bumps forming on her flesh as Brant’s eyes darted in the direction of the sound.
“I don’t know,” he admitted hating to let go of her, but as he watched the window slamming against the frame again and again creating the same pounding sound, a curious expression crossed over his handsome features.  “That shouldn’t be banging like that.”
“Brant,” Avery watched him walk towards the window as she pulled her arms up over her body.  Quickly she reached for the robe she’d had hanging on the wall and slipped into it as he tended to the window.
“It looks like the latch is broken on it,” Brant observed with a puzzled expression, “I wonder when that happened.”
“I don’t remember it being that way last night,” Avery confessed quickly as she closed the robe tighter around her body.
“Neither do I, but it’s been a while since I’ve been out here,” he shrugged his shoulders turning around to face her, “I suppose I can have someone come in here and fix it by this afternoon.”
“You probably should,” she nodded in agreement, “at least before it breaks even more with all that clanging.”
“I think I’ll do just that,” he decided after a moment’s contemplation, “I’ll make a call to the groundskeeper and then I’ll come back to the bedroom and take you down to breakfast.  How does that sound?”
“I’m not going to get a choice about the escort, am I?” Avery’s nose wrinkled in response.
“Not today,” he shook his head before offering up a playful wink, “though you know some women would die to have me at their side ready to provide them with their every desire.”
“Brant, it’s just breakfast,” Avery pointed out with a nod, “and I told you that I’m perfectly capable…”
“Shh…” he placed his index finger over the center of her lush lips, “Just indulge me.”
“Why does that suddenly sound like a frightening idea,” Avery quipped as he removed his finger from her lips.
“I’ll be the perfect gentleman,” he promised reaching out for her hand and bringing it over his heart, “after all there’s a lot more riding on this now that I’ve laid my heart out on the table to be yours for the taking.”
“Brant, I just don’t know if…” she started as she felt her stomach tied in knots, “I mean I know what you’re asking, but right now…”
“Now isn’t the time for an answer,” he interrupted flashing her a sexy smile as confidence brewed in his tone, “but when the time is right I have no doubt in my mind that you’ll make the right decision and when you do, well Avery I’ll be there to stand by you and support you through it.”
“Brant, I just wish…” she sighed as a tiny shiver pressed over her, “I should really get dressed.”
“Yes you should and I should make that call,” he decided with a quick nod, “I’ll be back shortly.”
“I’ll try to hurry then,” she promised watching him leave as she closed the door behind his exit.  Closing her eyes she sank into the door wondering if she’d ever truly find a way to do what was right as nothing seemed to be as it should these days.  Somehow she feared that whatever she decided it would ultimately be her downfall and with the baby on the way, the last thing she wanted was to let history repeat itself as she was certain she had no room for screwing up this time.


Cameron stepped into the breakfast nook and sat at the table while Franklin quickly moved to pour the coffee. Cameron draped a napkin in his lap as he looked up to Franklin, “Have you looked in on Ms. Gibbons this morning?”

“Yes, sir. She asked about toiletries and clothing. I helped her find the items she needed before advising her that breakfast would be ready when she was dressed,” Franklin spoke as he finished pouring the coffee.

“Good,” Cameron replied, “What’s for breakfast this morning?”

“Blueberry muffins, fruit salad for Ms. Gibbons per her request, and a southwestern omelet per your request, sir,” Franklin informed him.

“Thank you,” Cameron nodded in dismissal as he lifted a newspaper from the table before him. He unfolded the paper and read over the headlines. When he came upon the photograph of Brant under the headline announcing his marriage to Avery, he shook his head and dropped the paper upon the table, “I’ll be damned.”

“Trouble sir?” Franklin asked as he served an elaborately displayed omelet upon the table before his employer.

“On the contrary, I think things could be finding a way to work things out,” Cameron spoke as Heather stepped into the room. Cameron stood in respect as she made her way to a chair at the table, “Good morning.”

“Morning,” Heather replied simply before she sat down at the table.

Cameron sat down beside her while Franklin attended her by pouring a cup of coffee and filling a small glass with orange juice. When Franklin stepped out of the room, Cameron studied Heather closed, “Did you sleep at all?”

“No, I didn’t,” She admitted, “But I did take a hot shower, and that at least made me feel a little less tired.”

“Is there anything I can do for you? Perhaps call a doctor?” He offered.

“For what? For him to look at me and say that yep, I’m pregnant, it wasn’t a nightmare no matter how much I wish it had been,” She shook her head as she slumped back in her chair, “I don’t have the first clue about what I’m going to do.”

“I think you do,” Cameron spoke as Franklin returned with muffins and a fruit salad for Heather. Once the butler left, Cameron reached out to touch her hand, “I hope you considered my offer.”

Heather focused her attention on her benefactor before letting out a heavy sigh, “I have, but I don’t really know what to say.”

“Say that you want the best for yourself and your child. I told you that my offer is for your benefit. It’s true that I could benefit quite well by having a wife who is beautiful and who knows how to work a room. Right now, however, I want to make sure that you and your child are provided for. I saw Douglas’ reaction yesterday at the hospital. He isn’t going to lift a finger to help you out, and with a pregnancy, I’m sure your agent won’t be tripping over himself to find you any work.”

“You sure know how to make me feel good about myself,” She frowned as she looked away from him.

“I’m not trying to make you feel bad or pressure you. I’m just laying out the facts of the situation. I can help you.”

“Let me be perfect honest, Cameron,” Heather declared boldly as she looked back to him, “I don’t trust you.”

Cameron grinned, “At least you’re brave enough to say it. But I can work on that. I can teach you to trust me.”

“You’re so damn cocky. Is there anything I could say to dissuade you from this crazy idea?”

“No, but I can show you something which might persuade you to accept my offer,” He spoke as he placed the newspaper before her, “Kipp is in a coma, Brant’s moved on, and you’re all alone. But I’m here, and I can give you all the power you’ve ever dreamt of.”

Heather looked at the photograph of Brant on the front page of the newspaper and took a deep breath. She pushed the paper aside and focused back on Cameron’s eyes, “And I’d be free to live my own life? You wouldn’t dictate my every move or demand that I bow to your whim?”

“I’d only expect that you behave as a loyal wife and help me when I request it. You’d have your own money, drivers, offices if you wanted them. I’d give you everything you need to be the wife of a successful man such as myself. I’d give you absolutely everything you could dream of and expect very little in return,” Cameron said with a smile as he lifted her hand to his lips.

Heather watched as he pressed a kiss to the back of her hand, “Then prepare to say goodbye to your life as a bachelor, Cameron. If you want a wife, then you’ve got one,” She declared, hoping that her decision would the best thing for her future as well as that of her unborn child.


Grady stepped onto Russell’s front porch as he thought about what state of mind his brother would be in at a time like this.  Knowing how Avery had ripped Russell’s heart out time and time again burned Grady to know end and while he’d seen it coming, he knew how hard Russell wanted to believe that the lying tramp would do right by him for a change.  Still, it didn’t turn away from the fact that Grady had been right about Avery and all the way over to his brother’s house, he began to think of all the ways he’d make her burn in hell for what she’d done to his brother as no one crossed someone he loved and got away with it.  Avery would pay in ways she’d never imagined and Grady would help Russell find a way to rid himself of any positive thoughts about the witch that had destroyed his life, but now, well now was about helping Russell heal yet again.
Knocking on the door, Grady waited for his brother to answer, but when he received no response, his worries began to consume him.  He fished into his pockets hoping that he’d still had the spare key Russell had given him a while back as his concerns mounted and he prayed that his brother hadn’t gone and done something stupid after Avery’s latest betrayal.  Eager to get inside his brother’s house, Grady quickly unlocked the door and was shocked to discover that the house was in a state of complete disarray with everything seemingly torn down and thrown over the living room as Grady tried to carefully maneuver himself through the wreckage.
“Russ, what have you done,” Grady frowned fears consuming him as he damned Avery again and again in his head as he vowed to make her pay for hurting his brother as she’d done.  As he moved through the mess, he heard a thumping sound coming from the direction of Russell’s bedroom and he followed the noise praying that Russell hadn’t done anything foolish because of someone as meaningless as Avery was.
“Russ,” Grady called out to his brother hoping to get some kind of reaction as yet another crashing sound filled the house.  Reaching out towards the barely opened door to Russell’s bedroom, Grady stepped inside and was once again greeted by the same kind of disarray as clothes and suitcases were stacked upon Russell’s bed, “Russ, are you in here?”
Another sound filled the bedroom as clothing began to fly out of Russell’s closet in a rapid fire.  Grady began to dodge the clothing as it came out at his head one by one until finally he found the courage to step towards the closet unprepared for what lay before him as he saw his brother aimlessly tossing things into the bedroom.  A frown touched over Grady’s lips as he caught the latest sweater Russell threw out at him.
“What are you doing,” Grady frowned heavily as Russell stopped at the sound of his voice, stiffening as he slowly rose to his feet and turned to face Grady.
“It’s none of your business,” Russell answered tightly, his jaw clenched with obvious animosity as Grady tossed the sweater he’d caught back towards his brother.  Russell collected it in one hand as Grady spoke out to him once again.
“I’m worried about you, Russ,” Grady paused trying to find the right words to approach his brother on the subject of Avery’s marriage.
“Don’t bother,” Russell pushed past him making his way back into his bedroom as his voice had an air of coldness to it, “I don’t need your kind of concern in my life at a time like this.”
“Russ, I saw the news this morning,” Grady explained with a heavy sigh watching as Russell hovered over one of the open suitcases on his bed, “I know about Avery and Brant getting married.”
“She didn’t marry him,” Russell growled in response slamming the sweater he’d had in his hand into the large black suitcase before him as he faced Grady once again.
“Russ, I saw the news report as it was on practically every channel,” Grady sighed realizing that his brother was still in a heavy state of denial.
“Well they’re all wrong,” Russell argued with him reaching for another piece of clothing that he’d extracted from his closet, “because Avery didn’t marry that jerk.  She wouldn’t marry him.”
“Avery isn’t what you thought she was,” Grady frowned deeply as he approached his brother, “if nothing else this should show you that.”
“All it shows me is that Ashford is manipulating her once again and when I find her, well then this will all be straightened out because Avery loves me.”
“Avery walked out on you, Russ.  You finally did something right in your life by putting her in her place and she took the hint and left,” Grady continued shaking his head as he looked to the suitcases, “She tossed you like trash and then she ran off with Ashford to marry him because that’s always what the plan was.  They were just setting you up to take the fall for what they’d done to Bruce Mathis and you bought into it.  You let Avery play you to the point she damn near broke you again, but for a few minutes you got smart and you showed her when you wound up in bed with…”
“Shut up,” Russell growled reaching for Grady’s collar as he used his weight to shove Grady into the bedroom wall with a solid force.  His jaw tightened and his eyes narrowed with pure hatred as he slammed his brother into the wall once again knocking a painting off in the process.  “I’m not going to allow you to speak about her this way in my home.  I love Avery and I’m not going to let you or anyone get in the way of what she and I have together.”
“She left you Russ,” Grady stood firm despite the hold Russell had on him, “She’s a manipulative, gold digging…”
Grady’s words were silenced as he felt the impact of Russell’s fist to his jaw knocking him down to the ground with that one punch.  Feeling the lamp on Russell’s dresser come crashing down in the process, Grady looked up to find his brother towering over him in a stance that put him in a light Grady had never witnessed before.  Russell was wild with rage, looking to let loose and as Grady began to pull himself up off the floor he felt the blood trickle over the side of his face.
“I’m going to pretend you didn’t do that because I know you’re upset,” Grady answered straining to keep his anger under control.
“Don’t bother pretending,” Russell bit back sharply, “because I want you to remember that.  Just like I want you to remember that I’m not going to sit back and let you ruin my life.  Avery and I love one another and we were going to get married the night of the party.  She was going to be my wife--not that I should bother telling you any of this because you’re too busy trying to condemn her for being the one thing in this world that makes me truly happy, but that’s how it is Grady.  I screwed up, but don’t think for one second that it changes how I feel about Avery,” Russell turned his attention back to his suitcase, “I’m going to find her and when I do we’re going to be together and nothing is going to keep that from happening.”
“Over my dead body,” Grady remarked feeling his patience wearing thin as he felt his brother’s stubborn side taking control.
“That won’t be a problem for me if you stand in my way,” Russell announced his voice offering up the promise of something more should Grady opt to keep him from the one thing in his life that mattered most.
“Russ, you can’t throw your life away for Avery.  I won’t let you do it.”
“I don’t have a life without Avery,” Russell declared passionately as he faced his brother again, “and I’m not going to stop until she’s back here in my arms where she belongs.”
“She’s married to Brant Ashford,” Grady reminded him harshly, “What do you think you’re going to do?  Jump over the walls of the Ashford fortress and kidnap her when she doesn’t love you?  Russ, her marrying Brant is a clear cut sign that…”
“That’s it,” Russell dropped the shirt in hand as he focused his rage completely on Grady.  Grady’s words seemed to be the catalyst in the explosive fury that was unleashed as Russ found himself needing some kind of outlet for the chaos that surrounded him.  Within a matter of seconds he and Grady were pounding at one another, violently tearing at one another as with each hit Russell found himself wanting to knock the smugness out of Grady…to remove that condescending judgmental side that was always present when Avery was around and in that moment, Russell found himself overtaken by the animosity that his brother had stirred up in him for meddling in his life.
“You son of a…” Grady grunted as he continued to wail on Russell, wanting to knock some sense into his younger brother as the room began to burst apart at the seams with their fury.  Crashing sounds intensified with each violent blow they’d offered up to one another and as Grady felt Russell’s fist into his abdomen, he reacted with his own crushing blow until a loud piercing sound burst through the moment of anger between them.
“What are you two doing,” Elliot Denton questioned in horror watching his son’s tear one another apart as he made his way into the bedroom pulling Russell off of Grady as Russell had managed to pin him down to the ground and was hitting him repeatedly.  “Russ.  Stop this!” he instructed struggling with his son as he finally succeeded in tearing the two men apart.
Elliot looked between his two children seeing the result of their dispute as he eyed them both with heavy disapproval, “What is going on here?”
“He’s not going to tell me how to live my life,” Russell spat out his voice cracked with anger.
“And I’m not going to sit back and let you give up everything for that whore,” Grady cut back fiercely as Russell lunged forward despite the hold Elliot had on his son.
“Russ, stop it,” he tightened his hold on his son as Russell’s body shook in his arms ready to attack.  “Both of you stop this.  I don‘t know how you both got to this, but it would break your mother‘s heart if she saw you doing this to one another.”
“Russ is a fool and I can’t stand back and watch him ruin himself over Avery,” Grady answered flatly wiping at the blood on his face as his body surged with adrenaline.
“Avery is where I belong and I’m tired of defending myself to you,” Russell retorted his green eyes sparked with a fire as Elliot held onto him tighter preventing any further damage done between his boys.
“Look at the both of you,” Elliot sighed with heavy disapproval, “this is what you’ve become and for what?  What is this really about?”
“This is about Grady not letting me live my life…for the way he taunted Avery at the party,” Russell’s eyes darted upon Grady once again, “You had no right to speak to her that way.”
“She deserved everything I said,” Grady sneered up at him, “and more.”
“That’s enough,” Elliot frowned heavily as his voice took on an authoritative tone, “Grady go out in the living room.”
“What?” Grady blinked back at his father.  “You can’t be serious.”
“I’m very serious and I strongly suggest you listen to what I have to say,” Elliot warned as Grady kicked his feet to the ground and glared at his brother before heading towards the door.
“I’m only doing this for your own damn good,” Grady remarked off handedly before slamming the door shut behind him in his exit.
“That son of a…” Russell began as Elliot piped in.
“Son, this isn’t helping anything,” Elliot sighed heavily releasing his son, “You and your brother can’t do this every time…”
“Dad, you don’t understand.  I’m not going to sit back and let him do this to me time and time again.  I love Avery and I want to be with her…”
“Son, I saw the news,” Elliot began poignantly.
“What you saw was what Ashford wanted you to see,” Russell admitted point blank as he stepped in towards his suitcase, “You saw what Brant wanted the world to see, but it wasn’t how things are.”
“I know you want to believe that, but…” Elliot began watching Russell fill his suitcase.
“No, Dad it’s the truth,” Russell extracted the letter he’d found from Avery that was in his pocket and handed it to his father, “That says it all about how she feels about me and knowing that we have that kind of love for one another, well that kind of love doesn’t fade over night…even if a master manipulator like Brant wants the world to believe it does.”
Elliot’s eyes skimmed over the page as he read Avery’s words.  Once he’d finished reading he looked to his son again watching Russell zip up his suitcase.  “Son, what do you think you’re doing?”
“I’m going to find her and bring her home to me,” Russell answered simply, determination in his voice as he looked to his father, “I’ve been studying those news reports and I think I know where he took her.  With that footage they’ve been showing, well I think I know where that is and I’m going to fly out there and bring her home…”
“Russ, I don’t know if that’s such a good idea considering…”
“Dad, she loves me and I love her. I want to spend my life with her and that hasn’t changed,” Russell sighed as he raked his fingers through his hair, “Yes, I know I screwed up with her, but a love like ours is worth fighting for and if I don’t fight for her, then I’m only a bigger fool than I was the last time she walked out of my life.”
“Maybe last time was a sign,” Elliot suggested concern in his tone.
“Last time was a mistake, but this time, well this time I’m not giving up on love,” Russell declared fully ready to do whatever it took to get Avery back, “She’s my everything and you told me before that I shouldn’t stop fighting for that kind of love in my life.”
“Even so, given what’s been on television,” Elliot began with heavy reservations.
“Dad, I know in my heart that Avery hasn’t left me behind.  She hasn’t married Brant and she loves me,” Russell sighed sinking down onto his bed, “If you were in my position and it was mom that was out there with someone else, would you stop fighting?”
“That’s a different situation all together, Russ,” Elliot began to argue as he took a seat beside his son on the bed.
“Even so, I know that you’d never stop fighting for her.  You’d never give up on her because you love her and you know in your heart that you belong together.  That’s how it is for Avery and I.  She’s the one woman in this world that truly makes me happy and when I’m with her, well it’s the one time in my life when I know I’m alive.  When we’re together, it’s as if nothing else matters but the love we have for one another.”
“I know that it’s a powerful feeling you’re having right now, but…”
“Dad, she asked me to marry her,” Russell divulged thinking back to the special moment between him and Avery, “We sat here together planning out our future with one another as we both saw that we made mistakes before and we didn’t want to repeat them again.  She realized that we were worth fighting for and I promised her that I’d never let her walk away again--that I’d never stop fighting for our love and if I gave up now, then, well, what kind of man would I be?”
“Son,” Elliot sighed heavily thinking of the weight of the situation upon them, “do you realize what kind of chances you’re taking right now?”
Russell nodded, “And I’d risk it all if it meant that I could hold Avery in my arms once again.”
“Then you’re determined to chase her down even knowing what a man like Brant Ashford is capable of?” Elliot threw out contemplating his son’s decision.
“I’d go to the ends of the Earth if I could be with her--if I could just show her how much she does mean to me--that I didn’t want anything more than to be with her…that she’s the only woman…” Russell sighed as his voice softened, “Dad, you’ve got to help me with this one.  I know Grady hates everything about Avery and my being with her has turned him into someone I barely recognize, but I can’t just walk away from love.  I can’t make that mistake twice in a lifetime.”
“Do you realize what you’re asking me to do here, son?” Elliot questioned wishing that his son’s life had been spared of such misery.
“I’m just asking you to trust me and to support me when I follow my heart,” Russell answered honestly, “I don’t think that’s too much to ask for.”
“I just want you to be happy, son,” Elliot replied shaking his head, “Lord knows that’s all I’ve ever wanted for my children.”
“Avery is my happiness,” Russell admitted once again, “We have so many dreams for the future and if I back down and let Ashford destroy them…”
“Don’t let that happen,” Elliot found himself surprised by his words as he looked to his son before adding, “if I’ve learned nothing else in my years, it’s that I’ve seen what an Ashford is capable of and when they want something, they take it at any cost--by any means possible.”
“Not this time,” Russell vowed thinking to his plans to reunite with Avery.
“I hope you’re realize what you’re doing because you have a long, hard battle ahead of you if Brant’s willing to go this far to make the world believe Avery is his.  If they aren’t married like you believe, then well, he’s already staked his claim on her and he’s not going to just release her without a fight,” Elliot continued thinking about the many ways in which the Ashfords had spread their power and authority around over the years.
“I wouldn’t expect anything less from Brant,” Russell confessed as his voice filled with determination at the prospect of what lay ahead for him, “but in the end Avery will be with me again.  That much I’m certain of and there won’t be a damn thing Ashford can do to keep it from happening.”


Jade filled a coffee mug to the brim before making her way back to the living room, “I made this pot. It’s a little weaker than Grady’s was, and since you’ve finished that one, I figure it’s time to ease up on you a bit,” She said with a faint smile as she sat down on the coffee table and placed the mug beside her. She reached out to Seth and gently eased her hand across his cheek, “How are you feeling now anyway?”

“I still feel like I’m on the brink of death,” Seth admitted as he looked to his sister, “Thank you for putting up with me.”

She cracked a small smile, “Yeah well, I do have a little mercy left in me.”

“Well with the way things have been going for us, I never imagined you’d be so good to me. Strangle me, yeah. Laugh at me, yeah. Hold my head in the toilet to drown me, yeah, but be good to me? That never crossed my mind.”

“I never said that the thought of slapping you and letting you suffer through this on your own didn’t cross my mind,” She teased, “But you’re my brother, and I love you. I still think you’re being an ass about my relationship with Grady, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love you.”

“Let’s not get started on Grady right now. He’s still not my favorite person in the world.”

“You know, Seth, Grady could have just turned you away at the door last night, but he invited you into his home. He took you in and gave you a place to crash for the night. He got up early this morning to help you get through this hangover. He didn’t have to do any of these things. Why can’t you cut him a break for that?”

“Okay, so he’s not quite Satan, but he’s not what I’d want for you to fall in love with.”

“You don’t get to pick and choose, Seth. I didn’t choose Blake Ashford for you either.”

Seth frowned, “Well maybe I should have paid more attention to you. Blake dumped me.”

“Why?” Jade asked in confusion.

“I told her what her father had done to you. She didn’t believe it, and she called me a liar to my face. She accused me of wanting nothing more than to get back at her family through her.”

She frowned, “Did you expect anything different?”

“I expected her to believe me.”

“Seth, she’s only known you for a short while. You really expected her to turn her back on her family and all that she knew on your word?” She took a deep breath and shook her head, “You should have known she wouldn’t believe you.”

“I guess I always knew that deep down, but I really did hope that she could see that I was honest with her.”

Jade ran her fingers through her hair as she leaned forward upon her knees, “So that’s why you were drinking.”

“I saw her yesterday. I practically begged her for a second chance, and she ran out on me,” Seth frowned as he sat back against the back of the sofa, closing his eyes in disgust, “How could I have been so stupid, Jade? I had it all with her. She was beautiful and sexy and intelligent and funny,” He groaned as he looked to her, “I blew it.”

“I’m sorry, Seth,” She frowned as she slid onto the sofa beside him and placed her arm around him, “I had no idea you were going through something like this.”

“I know,” He said as he turned and met his sister’s eyes, “I hate this distance that’s between us, Jade. You’re my little sister and my best friend. You’re my confidant, and I’m kind of lost without you.”

She smiled as she leaned over to kiss his cheek, “I’m with you now, Seth, and I’m not going anywhere.”

“So we’re okay? You’re not mad at me anymore?”

“I’m not mad. Okay, so I’m a little frustrated with your lack of understanding about my relationship with Grady, but I’m not mad at you. I just wish you’d understand.”

“It’s hard for me to understand, Jade. I don’t get why this guy is the one you fell for. There are so many other men in the world. Why him?”

“Because he’s strong and intelligent and he’s sexy as hell,” Jade grinned.

“Ugh,” Seth groaned as he rubbed his temple, “I think the headache is getting worse.”

“Come on, Seth. I’m not asking you to be Grady’s best friend, but you’ve really got to let up on this. Grady isn’t like any other man you think I’ve met. He’s a good guy.”

“Is he?” He asked as he studied his sister’s features, “He told me he’s an alcoholic.”

“Yeah, he is, but he’s in Alcoholics Anonymous. He has been for a while now, and the term is recovering alcoholic.”

“Is he good to you?”

“Yes, he is. He’s very good to me,” Jade spoke as she fingered a tassel on the throw blanket in front of her, “He’s going through a tough time right now with his brother, and that’s a little tense. On the whole though, Grady’s the best guy in the world.”

“What’s going on with his brother?” Seth asked as he sipped the coffee she’d brought into the room for him.

“Russ is in love with a woman Grady doesn’t approve of. I guess the big brother thing really is true.”

“If he’s anything like me, then he’s just worried about his sibling. I just want you to be happy, Jade,” Seth said firmly as he hugged her to his side.

Jade smiled, “Then maybe you two can see eye to eye after all,” She smiled as she thought about the two most important men in her life and how maybe, just maybe, they could find some peace between them in the end.


Dave walked into the hospital and spotted Shannon standing at the admissions desk. He looked around the waiting area and waved at a nurse he knew as she passed by.

“Where have you been? You said to be here at eight this morning, and you’re only,” Shannon began as she looked at her watch, “Half an hour late.”

“I had things to take care of around the office. I am the chief of police, remember?” He sighed, “So who do you want to talk to first?”

“How about whoever he worked with on a daily basis?” She asked with a frown as she removed a note pad from her jacket pocket.

“Okay, let’s start with the emergency room staff,” He said as he made his way down the hall, “Barbara,” He called out to the ever present and friendly nurse, “Who’s the chief resident?”

“Dr. Mehran. You’ll find her in the doctor’s lounge taking a minute to breathe,” Barbara replied before stepping behind a curtain to attend a patient.

Dave and Shannon made their way down the hall to the doctor’s lounge and knocked as she stepped inside.

“Can I help you?” Ria asked from a table where she sat with a magazine and an apple.

“I’m Chief of Police Dave Warner. This is Agent Shannon Pryce. We’re investigating the murder of Dr. Bruce Mathis, and we were wondering if we could ask you a few questions,” Dave spoke as he pulled out a chair at the table and sat down.

“Sure,” Ria nodded.

“When did you meet Dr. Mathis?” Shannon asked as she sat down near Dave and began making notes.

“When I began my residency here at the hospital. Dr. Mathis was just coming on staff as an attending. We sort of grew in our jobs together,” Ria explained.

“Were you two close?” Dave asked.

“No, but I don’t think Dr. Mathis was close to anyone. He just didn’t have that kind of personality,” Ria shrugged, “You could talk to him, but you never quite knew what was going on behind his eyes, you know what I mean?”

Shannon nodded, “Did he ever talk about his past? Education or his residency? Anything like that?”

“He did talk quite a bit about New York. He seemed to know a lot about the city. He didn’t say he was from there or why he’d been there. Then again, I never did ask,” Ria pointed out.

“Did he ever talk about family or friends in New York?” Dave questioned.

“Not really. He just knew the area pretty well, and he acted like he might have known some people there but he never did go into great detail. Like I said, you never could really read him all that well,” Ria frowned.

“Was he a good doctor?” Shannon asked, “Was he competent?”

“Yeah, he was,” Ria admitted, “He wasn’t the absolute greatest on the planet, but he was pretty good. I never heard of anyone filing for malpractice against him.”

“What about hospital gossip? Anything related to Dr. Mathis that would be of interest to us? Nurses he may have dated or upset in some way, other colleagues who were jealous of him or vice versa?” Dave offered.

“No, the only romantic involvement I ever heard of involving Dr. Mathis was with Avery Morrison. Everyone around here kind of had a pool going on when they would get married,” Ria shrugged, “I guess you never can tell about some relationships, huh?”

“Ain’t it the truth,” Shannon sighed as she made additional notes on her pad, “Is there anyone at the hospital you think could give us additional information about Dr. Mathis?”

Ria thought for a moment, “I suppose Dr. Reynolds would have known more about Dr. Mathis’ past than anyone. He is the chief of staff after all, but other than that,” She shook her head, “I can’t think of a soul. Dr. Mathis was always kind of distant in a strange sort of way.”

“Okay, thank you for your time, Dr. Mehran. If we have any further questions, we’ll give you a call. In the meantime, if you think of anything that might strike you as something we need to know, this is my card,” Dave spoke as he offered her the item, “You can give me a call at any time.”

“I will,” Ria nodded before Dave and Shannon left the room.

“It appears the hospital staff didn’t have any better handle on this guy than we do now,” Shannon frowned, “I hope the chief of staff can shed some light on this.”

“Me too. This chasing a ghost routine is getting old,” Dave agreed as they made their way down the hall to pursue the only direction their investigation had to offer.


Brant lead Avery out onto the back porch as he’d prepared a peaceful breakfast for them.  While she’d been hesitant to enjoy the morning when he’d first approached her, he was certain this breakfast would turn the day around for her, but alas as soon as he stepped out onto the deck, he came face to face with the one thing he was hoping to avoid for the next few days--Caitlin Vaughn.
“Avery,” Caitlin rose from her chair greeting Avery with a simple smile, “I was just about to go up and see if you were awake.”
“Hi Caitlin,” Avery smiled back at her as Avery motioned to her own wet hair, “I guess you could say I’m running behind this morning having a sort of lazy day.”
“Lazy days are always nice, but you know so are days when you have nothing planned except a good shopping expedition,” Caitlin offered brightly motioning to the table she and Ken had been seated at, “but first I’m sure you’re hungry, huh?”
“Just a little bit,” Avery confessed following Caitlin over towards the table as Brant stood in the door way watching the woman that Ken had brought with him to the island retreat as Brant tried to figure out her angle.
Avery stopped mid-movement casting a glance over her shoulder at Brant before calling out to him, “Are you going to just stand there all day, or are you joining us too?”
“Of course I’m joining you,” he answered quickly stepping up behind her as he reached for her chair holding it out to help her get situated.
“Thank you,” Avery smiled up at him as her eyes feasted upon the table before her, “wow you really went all out this morning, didn’t you Brant?”
“I had the cook make a little bit of everything as I wasn’t sure what you were craving,” he admitted brightly, “I was sure that one way or another I could find something that you might enjoy starting with maybe one of these,” he handed a pastry over to Avery, “I know how you enjoyed them back at home.”
“A bear claw,” Avery reached for it contemplating taking a bite before setting it down on the plate before her, “Actually I don’t know if I’m really in the mood for something so sweet considering.  Maybe I’ll just stick to the basics here like some fruit.”
“The fruit is great,” Caitlin spoke up again as she motioned to Ken, “It’s excellent actually and Ken and I were just talking about what a beautiful day it is here.”
“Funny…” Brant quipped, “I would’ve thought you two would be off enjoying the day instead of lurking around here.”
“We had a few thoughts in mind, but we’d hoped to check in on the both of you since Avery wasn’t feeling well last night,” Ken explained as he glanced in Avery’s general direction, “So, how are you feeling this morning?”
“Tired, but I’ll be fine,” Avery replied noting the expression on his face, “Ken, don’t look at me like I’m broken.  I’m okay.”
“I never said you weren’t,” he raised his hands in the air in defeat before turning to his brother, “and what about you?  How are you doing this morning?”
“I’m doing wonderful as I was planning on taking a day to indulge in the finer things at the island with my fiancée,” Brant announced proudly, “I thought I’d take her for that tour we missed out on yesterday and then, well there are some things I’d like to show her.”
“That all sounds lovely, but Ken was just telling me about some of the little shops around town,” Caitlin interrupted him, “and well you know how it is when women hear about shopping.  It just becomes an open invitation to see what kind of things you can find at a place like this and I thought since Avery was locked up yesterday no doubt feeling some cabin fever that maybe she and I could go out for a while and investigate some of the local merchants.”
“I don’t know if that’s such a good idea…” Brant began with a frown.
“Oh Brant, it’ll be fun and I’m sure Avery would welcome the time out, wouldn’t you,” Caitlin eyed her encouragingly, “I mean after all a girls only shopping expedition is usually what the doctor orders after a day of being cooped up.  What do you say, Avery?”
“Well, it does sound like a change,” Avery nodded in response, “as I haven’t turned down a shopping adventure yet, but if Brant has plans…” she looked to Brant after a pause.
“Well I’d hoped we could continue on with those things we’d discussed yesterday,” Brant explained with a hint of agitation in his voice, “and besides I’m sure Ken has his own ideas about how he’d like to spend the day with Caitlin.”
“Actually I thought that maybe you and I would spend some time talking about a few things while they were out,” Kenneth piped in as Brant shot him a glare, “I mean hey, why not indulge in letting them enjoy themselves for a little while considering I know how you hate going out in the crowds this time of year.”
“All the more reason for Avery not to go.  Considering that this is tourist season, it’s probably not a good idea to let her go to the other end of the island where there’s all that chaos going on.  With the festival.”
“Festival?  What kind of festival?” Avery’s eyes lit up.
“It’s kind of like Mardi Gras, but I was hoping we’d get to that later considering that it’s tonight…” Brant began with a heavy sigh, “Going out there to shop this morning will be nothing but a hectic hustle and bustle as they try to get things together.”
“That could be fun,” Caitlin noted, “In fact I think that’s what we both need at a time like this.”
“Avery needs some peace and quiet,” Brant snapped back at Caitlin instantly wishing she’d never come to the island to begin with.
“Actually, if I have anymore peace and quiet around here, I think I’m going to drive myself insane,” Avery confessed bluntly, “I need a distraction for a little while.”
“Fine, then we’ll go shopping together,” Brant offered quickly refusing to let Avery spend any more time alone with Caitlin as Caitlin clearly was working to confuse her head even more.
“Brant, that’s not really necessary as Kenneth promised us that he’d send one of the staff members with us who knew the island pretty well,” Caitlin added quickly flashing a smile in Avery’s general direction, “as I think it will be a nice change of pace.”
“It does sound like fun and then maybe after we shop for a while, we can all meet up somewhere and then go to that festival,” Avery thought it over, “that is if you still want to go, Brant.”
“It sounds like a great idea,” Kenneth spoke over his brother’s lingering silence, “Much better than anything I could’ve come up with today and it’ll give Brant and I some time to talk about a few things we’ve been pushing under the carpet for a while.”
“I still think that shopping is a bad idea,” Brant insisted as he looked to Avery, “especially after the nasty spill you took yesterday.  I mean tonight I’m sure you’ll be rested for the festival, but right now, well now you should be taking it easy instead of walking around some foreign place with no idea of where you are.”
“Brant, I’m sure I’ll be fine,” Avery reached out to place her hand over his, “After all I won’t be alone as I’ll have Caitlin with me.”
“She doesn’t know where she’s going,” Brant grumbled shaking his head, “Neither one of you do and for you to just go out on your own…”
“Brant, they’ll be fine,” Kenneth stated plainly, “especially when I send someone out with them.”
“And what about the media?  What if one of them follows Avery around town and harasses her because you know that’s happened to us before and when I think of how they were with Blake in the past…” Brant scowled back at his brother.
“Blake fought them off and so will Avery.  Plus if we aren’t there, then they won’t be as likely to chase Caitlin and Avery down.  They won’t think twice of it unless they’re really looking.”
“Ken’s right,” Caitlin added enthusiastically, “I know how to work myself around overzealous press hounds so it won’t be a problem.”
“I still don’t like the idea,” Brant reiterated his position.
“We’ll be fine,” Avery piped in with a smile, “and hey if you’re a good boy maybe I’ll get you something while I’m out.”
“I’d really rather you didn’t go right now, Avery,” Brant confessed seeing the determination behind her eyes, “but if that’s really what you want to do…”
“I do,” she nodded squeezing his hand gently, “Thanks for letting us go off and do this.”
“I just hope that you’re safe while you’re out because if at any time you don’t feel safe…” he began again.
“Then I’ll have our escort bring us right back,” Avery promised, “Brant, I’m not going to let anything happen.  Caitlin and I can fend for ourselves.”
“Yeah, you both have been doing a great job of it there considering that she was in the hospital a short time ago, right?” Brant threw out as he watched Caitlin shudder upon his words and a silence hung over the four of them.
“You know on second thought, maybe Brant and I should tag along,” Ken spoke up quickly reflecting on his brother’s words.
“Ken,” Caitlin shot him a warning glance as she was hoping he wouldn‘t change her plans for the day considering they didn‘t involve Brant in any way.
“We don’t necessarily have to stick with you both, but if we’re there then we can just be around if we’re needed,” Kenneth began quickly knowing that this changed Caitlin’s plans for the day, but it also kept her safe as there was still danger lurking.  While he was certain she wouldn’t want him trying to protect her from any impending danger, he didn’t welcome the idea of her being alone on the island without someone to keep an eye out for her even if it meant changing her plans a little bit.
“Plus we can just go to the festival after you’re done shopping.  It gives you both some girl time and us some time to talk while making things much easier,” Brant added clapping his hands together, “Problem solved.”
“Wonderful,” Caitlin muttered under her breath wondering how she was ever going to get a chance to have that heart to heart with Avery when Brant refused to give her a moment’s peace.  Still as Caitlin resigned herself to the plans that were laid out before her, she vowed to find a way to help Avery one way or another even if it meant crossing Brant Ashford.

...to be continued...